One of the things that makes life dreadful is realizing that the things you love to do can burn you out, too.
An Upstate Escape: Unwinding Journey
I fell in love with photography during the pandemic. It surprised me how good it made me feel — like a piece of the puzzle that fits my life perfectly. Taking pictures felt so natural — it was as if the lenses were made for me to capture as people go on about their day, to see the beauty of life as it happens to each passerby; being able to capture these moments sparked something inside me that later on ignited into a burning passion for photography.
Later on, taking snapshots became my job, and people praised me for every peculiar shot that I got to photograph. They talked about the goodness of doing the things you love and asked how you do it, but they did not open up about how it can ironically tire you, too.
Unveiling the Layers of Burnout: A smile for a cry
Everything was going well. I push through my days, capturing remarkable scenes that hold stories worth telling. Every day, I prepare myself to succinctly snap photos that encapsulate how I feel; to show the world the rawness of life in an attempt to make people feel more about it; and capturing how the stories felt meant adding new reasons to the list of why I needed to push through, again.
However, beneath the surface, a different narrative began to unfold. It became apparent that burnout was not merely a byproduct of intense work periods. Instead, it was the poignant realization that the once-revered joy and fulfillment of my craft had begun to wane. The weight of this revelation added complexity to my struggle. Despite my strong interest in photography, I found myself going through the motions, motivated more by habit than by inspiration.
To be a photographer is to experience a great deal of love and pain; since I love what I do, the price of each photograph I take is the amount of life I exchanged for it. So I jumped from one disposition to another, trying to look for a safe place where I could devote my passion — a place where I could pour out all the feelings that I felt for the things that I love.
But what do you do when there’s not a single safe space to be found? Where do you unload and store all your baggage? Would you even reach a safe space when every step gets too tiresome? When the fire that keeps your passion alive is slowly burning out, what would you do?
The Breaking Point: Life’s defining moment
Passion is not without its consequences. To love what you do is to let yourself be witnessed in times you feel like falling apart. Beneath the surface of loving lies the things that come with it — the exhaustion, and self-doubt, and it takes a toll on your mental health.
Days came and it became apparent to me that I am gradually feeling tired. Every waking day felt like survival, but I would deny the thought that I was struggling. I couldn’t bring myself to distinguish the feeling but I know that I feel trapped, and it’s a lonely place to be. I kept on denying how I got to this point when I started my leap by doing something I love. I kept on talking about how ironic it gets and how overwhelming it’s making me feel. The feeling didn’t vanish, one day it came to meet me, and that’s when I learned that it was a burnout, and it was out to get me.
The weight of this realization added complexity to my struggle; it’s the haywire feeling of having the desire to go through the tough times, but not finding the strength it takes to carry it. It’s a long battle of self-doubt, confusion, and disappointment; the kind of struggle that clouds your own emotions, making it harder to identify your feelings. A constant tug-of-war between being rational and unhinged to the point that you invalidate your need for rest by justifying the stress; a nagging voice that says “You can’t be this tired when you’re not even good enough.” or “You don’t get to rest, this still isn’t your best”. Isn’t it frustrating?
Passion burnout happens but people rarely talk about it because it is hard to admit to ourselves that no matter how much we love doing the things that we are passionate about, a time will always come when we will get tired of it. But what we hadn’t prepared ourselves for is the weight of carrying the grief and dreadfulness of something we used to love so dearly — it’s giving the kind of ache that won’t subdue overnight and it is so hard to accept because in your mind you're thinking that "this is not how it's supposed to be."
The Reeling: Finding Balance
Instead of searching for a place to put my love for photography, I decided to build a home around it. Burnout would come to my house like cold air and I would welcome it like a visitor. It would try to fan the blaze of the flame but I would tell myself it doesn’t get to win. On days I feel like being crippled by the pain of being tired, I recognize the way it feels. I recognize it every time it tries to grip my heart until I get familiar with the way it comes with doing the things I love. My burnouts showed me the wounds, but my passion taught me how to treat them. My burnouts are the landscape in front of me, but I am the one to choose which angle to point my lenses to.
The process of getting familiar with my burnout is always challenging. Going through the process of recovery isn’t an overnight routine of telling myself, “It will probably get better tomorrow.” Gradually, I am slowly accepting the fact that my burnout will linger for as long as I persist. But on some days it pays a visit, like a cold air, I will guide it to walk out the door.
I had to remind myself every day that to love what I do means to come to terms with the pain that comes with it.
The Remembering: Tranquility within one's self
As we celebrate World Mental Health Day, we must remember that acknowledging our burnout and seeking help to recover from it are acts of courage and strength. Recognizing what tires us and how it hinders us is the first step in recovering from it. It would take us a lot of unlearning and unpacking, but slowly, we’ll learn how to get through our mind’s mess. Together, we can rekindle the passion that once illuminated our creative souls, and through empathy and understanding, we can find our way back to the art we cherish.
There is a truth in finding yourself as you do what you love, but the sense of redeeming yourself every day comes when you can accept that together with your passion comes the fact that you might need to take a break from it sometimes.
May this be a reminder that it’s alright to break our hearts over the things we love and allow ourselves to recover from it; doing the things we love doesn’t necessarily mean we will always have the energy to do it; and sometimes, it’s best to admit that there will be days when things get heavy, too.
But what’s better than going into the process of recovery is knowing we just have to be there — that we’ll find our way to reconnect to the things we’ve known most of our lives, and that we’ll all be there knowing we remember it all too well for as long as our passions burn.